Posted on 26 Apr 2012 at 20:59 PM by Ruck Driver
If we were to use the Rabodirect Pro12 as a formguide, it's fair to say that the betting for Saturday's Heineken Cup semi final between Ulster and Edinburgh would be very different indeed. Ulster have won the two domestic battles between the sides this season in a very comfortable fashion, scoring 80 points between the two legs and winning by over double scores on each occasion. However domestically. Edinburgh have been atrocious all season and if we were to assess the Scots based on that form, we'd have opposed them for every Heineken Cup tie and we'd have quite the hole in our bank balance for doing so.
The accepted wisdom in advance of the Aviva Stadium showdown is that the Ulstermen should prevail, but looking a little closer at the likely head to heads on the field of play, it's actually quite hard to trust them to cover a handicap betting spread that is as high as eight points in places.
Starting at the coalface, the suspension of John Afoa opens the door for Declan Fitzpatrick to make a rare start in the front row and there is no doubt but that Allan Jacobsen will be looking to take full advantage of the inexperience and naivety of his less well known counterpart. Jacobsen isn't the most powerful scrummager that Fitzpatrick will have ever met, but he is extremely clever both at using his body in the most efficient technique possible, and at managing the PR battle with the referee, something which is all the more important nowadays in the era of collapsed scrums and frustrated officials and spectators.
In the back row, Stephen Ferris has been Ulster's go-to guy this year but he might not dominate this game as much as would normally be the case since he goes head to head with David Denton, who has been a revelation in 2012. Denton is one of the few players who would relish the physical battle with a player like Ferris and he carries with him the same rampaging threat in the loose. Ferris rarely has to spend too much time worrying about the defensive side of his game - he leaves that to his opponents, and simply hits everything that moves - but this Saturday he'll have to keep one eye on the Zimbabwean-born Scottish international.
And of course we also have the battle at outhalf, where Gregg Laidlaw, an admittedly small and limited outhalf, is still by far a more consistent and dependable performer than Iain Humphreys, who has huge deficiencies in his game with regard to tackling and defensive awareness. Humphreys can be an excellent director of traffic when he sets his mind to it, but occasionally he has been known to almost play like an inside centre, disappearing from games and letting Ruan Pienaar control the pace and flow of the game from the base of the scrum.
Ultimately, Ulster are the more consistent team, they are the more balanced team, they have home country advantage and they have the edge in European experience. However Edinburgh are a rejuvenated force under Michael Bradley and they come into this game with nothing to lose and everything to gain, just as they did against Toulouse in the quarter final. Ulster's win over Munster was magnificent both for the significance of it, and the manner in which they blew Munster out of the water in surging into a 16-0 lead. However Edinburgh slayed a much fierier dragon and they have to be respected this week. Ulster may grind this one out, but eight points is a big handicap and the smart betting play could be taking the Scots to stay within a converted try of Ulster. Alternatively, those looking for a bigger price could look at the 11/2 from William Hill about Ulster winning by 1-5 points. Winning margin betting is a tough art to master but the greater volatility allows for generous returns and there is every chance that this game could turn into a tight, tactical battle with plenty of nervous mistakes on both sides.